Trees de­liver more wood thanks to ge­net­ics

New Zealand Logger - - Forest Grower’s Research 2018 -

GE­NETIC MOD­I­FI­CA­TION MAY BE A DIRTY word among the gree­nies but im­prov­ing the genes of our trees has al­ready de­liv­ered bumper ben­e­fits over the years.

It’s just had to be done us­ing nat­u­ral tech­niques in­stead of ar­ti­fi­cial gene ma­nip­u­la­tion or through the trans­fer­ring of ‘alien’ genes into the host be­cause GM and even gene edit­ing are banned here.

New Zealand is lead­ing the world in the use of nat­u­ral ge­netic science to im­prove the qual­ity and growth of our most im­por­tant plan­ta­tion tree, Ra­di­ata Pine, in­clud­ing be­ing the first to map its com­plete dna.

Scion re­searchers, Dr Heidi Dungey and Dr John Moore, told the 2018 For­est Grow­ers Re­search con­fer­ence in Tau­ranga last month that ge­net­ics has al­ready helped to de­liver a 30% im­prove­ment in the growth and wood prop­er­ties of Ra­di­ata. And there’s much more to come.

The next step, they say, is in the use of ge­nomic se­lec­tion to help speed up the de­liv­ery of ge­net­i­cally im­proved trees, which will de­rive greater gains in the fu­ture.

Ge­nomics is the science of un­der­stand­ing, in­ter­pret­ing and har­ness­ing the dna code to cre­ate bet­ter so­lu­tions.

Dr Dungey be­lieves it would be pos­si­ble to know within 9 years the po­ten­tial of a new tree clone, in­stead of the cur­rent wait­ing time of 17 years, roughly halv­ing the time. So new, im­proved trees can be brought to mar­ket speed­ier, she says.

Us­ing this tech­nique will lead to greater gains in wood qual­ity in fu­ture trees, im­prov­ing their den­sity and stiff­ness, as well as in­creas­ing their growth rate so that they ma­ture at a younger age than cur­rent trees.

Scion will be us­ing the ge­nomics ap­proach as part of its Ra­di­ata Pine Breed­ing Com­pany pro­gramme over the next two years, util­is­ing a world-lead­ing SNP Chip tech­nol­ogy that will al­low it to geno­type 20,000 in­di­vid­ual trees.

More im­prove­ments could be on the hori­zon. Dr Moore says that while le­git­i­mate tech­niques, such as gene edit­ing, which is claimed to be to­tally safe and could help to speed up the devel­op­ment of im­proved trees even fur­ther, are un­able to be used at present the Scion team is look­ing at other ge­netic tools.

He says some of the traits that will need to be de­vel­oped in fu­ture are trees that can deal bet­ter with cli­mate change, with a par­tic­u­lar em­pha­sis on engi­neer­ing drought re­silience.

NZL

Ge­nomics is help­ing tree sci­en­tists to pro­duce bet­ter Ra­di­ata Pines.

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